Do you remember 1961? Hardly a classic year in British history unless you were there but the 60s had officially started to swing and we were a nation obsessed with one thing: American rock n’ roll. It had been 5 years since Bill Haley caused a song, dance and a riot with his movie Rock Around The Clock and we were enthralled. We ate burgers and drank milkshakes not worrying about calories. We listened to Cliff Richard safe in the knowledge Millennium Prayer was 39 years away. It was an era soaked in romanticism and one that provides the perfect backdrop for a hit musical, enter stage left Dreamboats and Petticoats.
Dreamboats and Petticoats was created in 2009 following the success of the hit CD collection of the same name and no one has wanted to switch this jukebox musical off since. It’s a 2 hour show packing in a whopping 46 musical numbers and more Brylcreem than you can dip a hundred combs in. Being a fan of this rich musical era, I knew that The Grand Opera House would put on a good show and I was not disappointed on the night.
Let’s start with the story. Dreamboats and Petticoats centres on the kids of St Mungo’s youth club, an Essex-based organization living somewhere between Grease and Grange Hill. Bobby is a geeky dreamer who aspires to two things: being the singer in the club band and dating club flirt Sue. Unfortunately he has competition from bad boy Norman and is completely unaware that sweet 16 Laura loves him acne and all. A national songwriting competition sets the scene as lovers change, hearts are broken and the cast head to Southend. It’s your classic ‘girl loves boy but boy loves tease but tease loves bad boy so lets sing about it until all is right’ scenario. You know it right?
As the curtains went up, we were straight into Let’s Dance and The Wanderer, two excellent musical numbers in what turned out to be an awkward opening. No blame attributed to the cast or performance though. It’s simply that the start is rapid…one-minute dialogue followed by one-minute song. It’s a little stop-start and it made for a stunted beginning. Thankfully the structure relaxed quickly and the remainder of the show passed with the songs and dialogue complimenting each other perfectly. I was particularly impressed with the acapella moments or more creative music arrangements such as twinning classic tune Runaway with Who’s Sorry Now. It’s a great show full of life, colour and excellent song.
The cast delivered the show perfectly. Last night’s show in York saw one change however as X Factor finalist Scott Bruton was too ill to take the stage as Bobby. Thankfully the audience did not seem to mind as Alexis Gerred stepped in (having played Bobby on the last UK tour) and played his part brilliantly. Elsewhere in the cast there is a raft of reality TV finalists for celebrity spotters including Terry Winstanley (X Factor), the very entertaining Ben James-Ellis (Any Dream Will Do) and Amy Diamond (Over The Rainbow) performing alongside fresh theatrical faces and talented musicians. It’s a great cast that was epitomized by the standout performance of Elizabeth Carter as bookish teen Laura.
However, the main star of the show is the music. I mean no disrespect to the cast in saying this but the show’s existence is owed to the hit songs in the show. Dreamboats and Petticoats is essentially a hit parade from start to finish. The delivery of the songs is crafted perfectly by the young cast but it’s the songs themselves that get people singing, clapping and dancing. In fact, what writers Marks and Gran have done is very clever. They know whom their audience is and they are the same people that lived this music first time round. The clever part is that they’ve weaved hit songs around cultural references from their audience’s lives. The majority of last night’s crowd may now be drawing a pension but the show allowed them to remember the songs, the chasing of the girls or boys and how they used to be at the hop every weekend. It’s a pure nostalgia trip and, to quote Big Bopper, hey baby that’s what they like.